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Sources: Obama plans W.H.-GOP budget group

April 24, 2013
POLITICO
JOHN BRESNAHAN and GLENN THRUSH

President Barack Obama is reaching out to Republican senators — the most receptive participants from his recent “charm-offensive” dinners — to jump-start talks to reach a “grand bargain” on entitlements, spending and taxes, according to White House and Congressional officials.

Obama — fighting against steep odds to reach a big legacy deal on deficits and debts — has personally pressed Congressional leaders for another shot at reaching an agreement similar to one that fell apart during negotiations with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2011.

Chief of staff Denis McDonough and his deputy Rob Nabors have been consulting behind the scenes with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leaders to create a list of possible deal-makers who would attend a preliminary meeting with top Obama fiscal and economic advisers to gauge areas of potential agreement.

Obama himself isn’t likely to attend the first sit-down, expected soon.

Hill staffers close the situation say the list remains fluid, but names reportedly being considered include Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — Republicans Obama considers to be committed to another round of negotiations in good faith.

But a senior White House official told POLITICO any speculation about specific participants would be “wrong,” and refused to confirm any names because none of the potential attendees had yet been contacted or even briefed on the new process.

The official did say the group of probably no more than eight would be largely “self-selecting” — GOP senators who had previously expressed interest in a budget working group.

Obama’s team has kept Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the loop, according to leadership sources, but so far the effort has been spearheaded by the West Wing.

Still, one senior Democratic source cast the process as part of a larger bipartisan effort in the not-too-distant future, engineered by the White House, that would eventually include a roster of top Democratic budget negotiators.

Obama, the source said, “is looking to replicate the ‘gang’ approach that has been working on immigration reform.”

People close to Obama insisted wouldn’t be a “gang,” Beltway shorthand for a bipartisan group that would work outside of the regular legislative process, but would function as an adjunct to standard channels of negotiation between the House and Senate.

“The president has made clear that he wants to work with both sides to see if we can find a caucus of common sense to find a solution to our deficit challenges,” the official told POLITICO.

“We are continuing to follow up on the conversations the President has had with a number of Senate Republicans on a staff level to do that, and we will be continuing that outreach in the days and weeks ahead. But to be clear, there are no “gangs” — the president is and always has been willing to work with anyone who wants to find a balanced, reasonable approach to these issues.”

The bipartisan push comes about two weeks after Obama released a $3.77 trillion budget proposal — including $583 billion in new revenue from the wealthy — that was roundly rejected by Republicans who have flatly refused to consider any new taxes as part of a long-term budget-balancing effort.

Obama has been stung by a spate of recent articles and columns blaming his lack of outreach and legislating skills for the demise of the Senate gun bill last week. McDonough, a former Hill staffer who personally lobbied for the measure, has been an internal advocate for greater bipartisan communication.

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